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Østergaard designed these methodical, sensitive, force-limited arms, starting with the UR5 in 2008, to safely work alongside humans to help with work, not take it away.
More recently he has developed an intuitive interface so pretty much anyone in the factory can control these cobots, demolishing the knowledge barriers to adoption much like he ripped down the perpetual need for industrial robots to be stashed behind a safety fence.
For his efforts, Universal has become the cobot market leader, with a 58-percent share. More recently, at Automatica 2018, where UR debuted the new e-series, Østergaard was awarded the Engelberger Robotics Award in the technology category, named after the Father of Industrial Robots, Unimate creator Joseph F. Engelberger.
“His work in the field of collaborative robot applications has allowed robots to enter previously unthinkable sectors in just about every industry,” says Jeff Burnstein, president of the award granter Robotic Industries Association. “Esben Østergaard’s emphasis on robots that work side-by-side with people and are easy to use has created enormous interest among many small and medium sized companies who never even considered robots before. In a world that is increasingly characterized by people and robots working together, Esben’s pioneering technology advances play a pivotal role.”
The prestigious award, considered the highest in the field of robotics, has been given out since 1977. We recently spoke with the 44-year-old roboticist, the youngest ever to receive the award (though not the first Dane), about the work he’s done to earn to the honor, as well as what he thinks lies ahead for manufacturing and society when it comes to collaborating with robots.
John Hitch: How do you feel about winning this award?
Esben Østergaard: Of course it’s great and a lifetime achievement. Somehow, I think I’m too young for this. But I promise to do more. I’m not done yet.
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